A Quick, Spoiler-Free Guide to the Chinese Spirit in Netflix’s “Love, Death & Robots”

Netflix's much-buzzed animated series features a Chinese fox spirit who has been a feature of storytelling for centuries

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9:42 PM HKT, Thu March 28, 2019 1 mins read

Netflix’s new experimental animated sci-fi series Love, Death + Robots has critics both purring and perplexed. Forbes dubbed it “hit, miss, and extremely NSFW”, for example, which immediately had us intrigued. That, plus the fact that one of the episodes that’s largely being deemed a hit is “Good Hunting”, which is based on a short story by three-time Hugo Award winner Ken Liu and is set in mainland China and Hong Kong.

In listing it as the fourth-best episode in the collection, Vulture wrote that “Good Hunting” uses “aspects of both traditional folklore and the steampunk genre to unfold the tale of a young inventor’s lifelong friendship with a fox spirit, and the alliance that makes them both into forces whose oppressors should fear them.”

That fox spirit, is known in Chinese as Huli Jing 狐狸精. The Huli Jing also appears in Korean, Vietnamese, and Japanese mythology, and is often depicted with nine tails.

Love Death Robots Netflix Chinese Good Hunting

This Netflix incarnation looks pretty fierce, but as Xueting Christine Ni explained in our round-up of Chinese ghosts and ghouls, fox spirits and the related Hu Gui 狐鬼 or Hu Xian 狐仙 can be friendly:

Believed to be spirits of deceased foxes that lie unburied. They like to reside in plates, bowls and other domestic objects. These are friendly ghosts, and not to be confused with fox demons. The benign spirits of animals such as weasels, foxes and raccoons (sometimes referred to as Wu Xian, the Five Spirits) were venerated in many places around China.

Whether benign or hostile, fox spirits have been popping up in Chinese storytelling for centuries, as Ni points out.

Hu Xian has been the subject of many great stories in Chinese literature, such as the Jin Dynasty collection of supernatural phenomena by Gan Bao (286-336), the Soushen Ji and Pu Songling’s 19th-century compilation Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio.

…And, of course, of the Ken Liu short story “Good Hunting”, which inspired Netflix’s animated episode of the same name. Liu — who in addition to penning his own award-winning works has translated Liu Cixin‘s widely-praised Three Body Problem and put together the Invisible Planets anthology of Chinese sci-fi — recently wrote on his site that he thought “the [Love, Death + Robots] adaptation looks fantastic”.

You can watch the “Good Hunting” episode here and read up more on such spirits and beasts below:

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